Monday, December 21, 2009

12 'Beer' Books for Christmas, #1: Hops and Glory

And now, 12 drummers drumming ...

announcing ...

The #1 Book for Christmas

Hops and Glory

Hops and Glory: One Man's Search For The Beer That Built The British Empire
Pete Brown
MacMillan: 2009
ISBN: 978-0-230-70635-4

I know it would not be very much in the Christmas spirit to say this, but: I hate Pete Brown.

He is the 2009 British Guild of Beer Writers Beer Writer of the Year. His 2009 book, Hops and Glory, is one of the best books about beer that I have ever read. It's the book that I will never be able to write.

Hops and Glory is one man's literal search for the historical India Pale Ale (I.P.A.), but unlike many other 'beer' books, it would be an enjoyable read even for someone who is not a beer geek.
India Pale Ale was the greatest beer that ever lived. <...> The journey that gave birth to IPA, the old sea route from England to India around the Cape of Good Hope, remains the greatest journey beer has ever made, and was made at at time when most brewers couldn't even deliver their beer to the next town in good condition. <...>

And then I realized something else. <...> For all the experimentation that had happened in the [United] States: the recreation of old recipes, the use of new ingredients, the super-high levels of hops, the alcohol levels on a par with wine — the one thing no twentieth or twenty-first century brewer had done was recreate the journey that gave birth to the style in the first place.

In Hops and Glory, Mr. Brown channels Bill Bryson, creating a vividly described travelogue. He has an English brewery create a cask of pale ale, and takes it with him from England to India. Along the way, he shares hilarious glimpses of the absurdities of modern life.

It's also an intertwined history of of Britain, ale, and the Industrial Revolution. Brown abstains from meretriciously repeating beer canards. Á la historian Maureen Ogle, he uses original and primary records, highlighting new ideas about IPA's origin and formulation. (The bibliography of sources could itself be the basis for year-long reading.)

Like George Plimpton, Mr. Brown records the foibles of a man undertaking a task for which he he is woefully unprepared (in this case, sailing). Like writers of confessions, he can be brutally honest at times, exposing his personal doubts. And, like, dare I say, the late Michael Jackson —the sine qua non of 20th century beer writers— Mr. Brown writes very well.
Whatever happens when we reach Brazil [the sailing routes were from Europe to Brazil, then around the tip of Africa into the Indian Ocean], nothing changes the fact that I am sailing —not flying, not powering — sailing across the Atlantic, on a ship that takes your breath away. This ship, which I'd feel privileges even to see, is my home for three weeks. This journey, even this moment, makes everything worth while. I've consummated my relationship with the sea, and I'm head over heels. I suspect there will be higher peaks of stress and lower troughs of despair to come (and I'm so right), but here and now the waxing moon has risen, sewing a wide silver swathe across the sea, turning it into the carpet of a magical playground, a fairy-tale theater and oh you devious, obstreperous cow, how the fuck did you sneak on to one-ninety? [He was having difficulty holding the helm to the proper compass point.]

Here's a synopsis (warning: plot spoiler):
Man drinks with buddies in his local pub; gets a good buzz on; hatches the idea of recreating the historical voyages of Pale Ales from Burton-on-Trent to Calcutta; abandons his significant other for six months; learns how Britain used beer and opium to dominate a sub-continent; crosses the Atlantic in a sailing vessel; loses his cask; get a new one with literally minutes to spare; fights with bureaucracy; taps the cask in India, and ...

... for the climax, you'll have to turn to page 411 of your own copy.

The bad news is that Mr. Brown has not found a publisher in the USA (although I obtained my copy via Amazon Canada). More bad news: the initial printing is sold out. Good news: a paperback edition arrives in 2010.

In the spirit of the season, I retract my initial statement. Thank you, Pete Brown, for this wonderful book.

12 'Beer' Books for Christmas: Today being the Winter Soltice, this is the final post in a a series of 12 recommendations for beer-themed books.

This is not a Top 12 list. It's my list of 12 books, personal delights. On Christmas Day: put your feet up, pour yourself a good beer, and read a good book. Better yet: give a friend the gift of a beer and a book. The entire list here.

1 comment:

  1. On your advise I purchased this book. I have to say outside of Jackson's works, this is probably the best "beer book" I have read in quite some time. There really are only a handful of beer/drinks writers that play the same sport as Jackson. That still does not even put them in the same ball park, but Brown comes pretty close with this work. Sad to say what has been passed off as "beer writing" in America is laughable. So far as I can tell, the only beer writers I have found useful have been from the UK. Must be that Burton water.


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